Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Album Review: Beat Rhythm Fashion - Critical Mass (2024)

When Beat Rhythm Fashion returned after a 35-plus-year hiatus in early 2019 with a tour and a new album (Tenterhook, reviewed here) it felt like it would be a one-off. A chance for key protagonist Nino Birch to get some stuff off his chest. A belated swansong of sorts, and closure for a band that never really drew a definitive line under its former life as one of Wellington’s original post-punk pioneers.

An early/mid-1980s move to Australia, followed by the death of Nino’s brother and band mate Dan Birch in 2011, plus, I imagine, a host of other key sliding door moments along the way, meant the music of BRF, and that of Nino Birch specifically, was in danger of becoming little more than a distant memory for fans of the band’s earliest incarnation.

An inspired 2007 Failsafe Records compilation of early singles and other recordings, Bring Real Freedom, sought to remedy that, and it worked as a welcome reminder of the band’s early material. Underlining what might have been had choices and circumstances taken the brothers down a different path. It certainly stands as a great legacy document for that first phase of BRF’s existence.

 Another half decade on from Tenterhook, Birch and co-conspirator Rob Mayes have returned with Critical Mass, an eleven-track album release which expands on some of the themes explored on the “comeback” album, while also seamlessly merging the personal with the political.

One of the things I took from the band’s live performance at Meow in Wellington in 2019 (see here) in the immediate wake of the Christchurch terror attack - which had occurred a day prior - was a sense that Birch is a man who cares deeply about the world. A thinker, and someone who isn’t shy about asking hard questions. Almost every track on Critical Mass offers a lyric or line which seeks to provoke or prompt an alternative view of the world. Which is never really a bad thing.

And certainly, the intervening years between Tenterhook’s release and the slow burn evolution of Critical Mass have not been found wanting for source material: a marked worldwide political swing to the right, horrific wars - at least two of which border on mass genocide - and of course, there’s been that global pandemic thing.

Beat Rhythm Fashion offer takes on all of these things, and more, and it’s impossible to fully absorb Critical Mass without being prompted to think a little bit outside the box. Even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, that might be enough.

Musically the album is polished listen. Despite the logistical issues Birch and Mayes would have faced living in different countries, with Birch based in Australia and Mayes in Japan, sending lyrics, ideas, and musical stems back and forth in order to pull everything together. Something they’ve achieved with aplomb.

Naturally it has the same post-punk feel the band has always been associated with, but as with Tenterhook, it’s a much fuller sound than that really early stuff. Birch’s voice has aged well, and I’d contend that Critical Mass contains some of his strongest, most nuanced vocal work.

There’s a lot to love about where Beat Rhythm Fashion finds itself in 2024. I only hope there’s more to come …

Best tracks: I can’t go past ‘Asylum’, one of the softer mid-album tracks, as my favourite. There’s just something about that track which resonates strongly with me. Not only the delicate tensions within the music itself, but its lyrical content, and the wider resignation that “this is not my world” and we can’t just “make it go away” … plus, the pre-release single ‘No Wonder’, ‘Remote Science’, ‘Atonement’, and the closer ‘Doubt Benefit’.

But look, it feels churlish to single out specific tracks, and the whole album is solid. Critical Mass is one of those rare local (well, local-ish) releases that just gets stronger with each and every listen. An album, perhaps, that may require multiple listens before all of its subtle charms are fully exposed.

You can buy Critical Mass here.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Classic Album Review: 1990s - Cookies (2007)

Craig Stephen revisits a lost noughties classic (well, sort of … just go with it) from Glasgow …

If Glasgow indie band Yummy Fur were to reform today they’d be heralded as a supergroup.

Despite making as much presence on the music scene in their several years of existence as a provincial election in Guinea-Bissau makes on global politics, the band gave the world Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson of Franz Ferdinand, and Jackie McKeown of the band known simply as 1990s. Not a bad record then, even if their own ones weren’t much cop.

After Yummy Fur, McKeown eventually formed 1990s (no The) in the 2000s alongside Michael McGaughrin and Jamie McMorrow – who was also a founding member of Yummy Fur. It was a good time to be a Glasgow band, Bis were in their heyday, Franz Ferdinand were stratospheric and, erm there were The Delgados too. The city was far enough from the feeding frenzy of London to do things its own way.

 Sizzling with glam-rock guitar hooks and a touch of the Britpop swagger, 1990s released a couple of singles in 2006 before pumping the Bernard Butler-produced Cookies out into the world.

The band’s debut single ‘You Made Me Like It’ opens the album and what better way to introduce yourselves. It’s a preening 70s jigabout rekindling memories of Mott the Hoople and early Supergrass.

One of the verses is somewhat esoteric: “T.B Sheets, Irma T, money back guarantee/ Lady drum, Lady Di/ How'd you make your baby cry/ FTQ, FTP, Bobby D's in Mozambique/ Me, I'm on Decatur Street .”

Google is your friend here, but if I hear that last line correctly, we’re in New Orleans.

The second single was ‘You’re Supposed To Be My Friend’ which appears to be about those people who say they’re your their mate, but reality tells a different story.

Friendship and lovers are something the band keep coming back to. While most tracks could be centred in Any Town, ‘Pollokshields’ is a reference to the ‘garden suburb’ of southern Glasgow. It’s more appealing than New York: “Chelsea Hotel, did it ring my bell?/ I'd rather be … in Pollokshields .”

‘Cult Status’ is one of those risqué tracks that could still have been acceptable in 2007 but you wouldn’t try that trick now. As with most of the tracks on Cookies, the drums are simple and the guitar chords not too overbearing. While McKeown sounds positively perverted. "Strange faces ... not too clean / Wrong side of 16".

‘Arcade Precinct’ celebrates the humdrum banality of being young and walking the streets of your own town. Teenage girls who are “just getting away from their dads/ Busy tea-leafing, grabbing things for free,” while hanging around arcade precincts and foodhalls as they embark on their tentative steps into the big bad world of adulthood.

Sometimes the songs aren’t about much at all, like ‘Enjoying Myself’, which is a rather humdrum tale of partying. Like, that’s never been done before, right? But the basslines, the working class life manifestos, the cocksure attitude and the spirit of the west coast of Scotland make Cookies a vital and musically faultless album. It’s the sound of Britain in the 1970s updated for the 2000s by a band called 1990s.

A couple of years later 1990s delivered another excellent album in Kicks, which was again produced by Bernard Butler, and which I’ll review later this year. In 2011 the band appeared set for a third long-playing release with a single preceding it, ‘My Baby’s Double Espresso’, but the LP sadly and strangely never appeared. It wasn’t until 2022 that Nude Restaurant was released on limited edition green vinyl. Needless to say it was excellent.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Top 10 of ... Punk Dub

That punk rock, it was all shouty noise and noisy shouting wasn’t it?

Ah, now you see one of the great stereotypes of our times; that punk was just about making a racket. Well, it wasn’t jazz but there was far more to the genre than a lot of people think.

Back in 1976, punk and reggae seemed intertwined; at the punk clubs, reggae was played by Don Letts and other DJs as there were so few punk records to actually play. Bob Marley & The Wailers got in on the act with 1977’s ‘Punky Reggae Party’ … “The Wailers will be there/ The Damned, The Jam, The Clash/ Maytals will be there/ Dr Feelgood too.”

And punk bands found dub reggae to their liking.

That produced the cracking records from punk and post-punk outfits. Like these …..

The Ruts: Jah War (1979)

Hit singles such as ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’ and ‘Babylon’s Burning’ tick all the requisite punk purity boxes. But The Ruts were far more diverse than many of their peers, which can partly be attributed to being late starters and hearing more than the early punk rockers. ‘Jah War’ appeared on the classic 1979 debut The Crack. It has a heavy roots-reggae feel and is also political, tackling the violence perpetrated by the London Police’s controversial SPG (Special Patrol Group) during trouble in the ethnically-diverse suburb of Southall in 1979.

Released as the third single from The Crack, the BBC banned it for its message.

The Clash: One More Dub (1980)

The Clash laid their love of reggae and dub to the mast early on: a cover of Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ was released as a single in 1977. A year later they released ‘White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)’ which namechecked a litany of reggae stars to a Jamaican vibe backdrop.

‘One More Dub’ followed on from ‘One More Time’ at the end of side two of the triple album meisterwerk Sandinista. The standard track is about poverty and its effects in so-called ghetto towns; ‘One More Dub’ strips the lyrics down, more or less to the chorus: “One more time in the ghetto/ One more time if you please/ One more time for the dying man/ One more time if you please.”

 Generation X: Wild Dub (1978)

Generation X’s second 45, glam-punk stomper ‘Wild Youth’ was paired with ‘Wild Dub’ which revealed the band’s reggae influences with singer Billy Idol toasting at the end, “Heavy, heavy dub/Punk rockers!”. The single was produced by Phil Wainman in late 1977, and while neither track were included on the self-titled debut album, they were both part of the much-changed US version.

Stiff Little Fingers: Johnny Was (1979)

A cover of a Bob Marley & The Wailers song, the Irishmen’s version revamped the lyrics to reflect the violence of the time in Northern Ireland. While both songs convey the horror of a mother who’s son has been killed by a stray bullet, the Wailers made it non-geographical while SLF’s take added the following line to make clear where the incident occurred: “A single shot rings out in a Belfast night and I said oh Johnny was a good man.”

Steel An' Skin - Afro Punk Reggae (Dub) (1979)

Steel An' Skin were a British-based group who came from West Africa, the Caribbean and the UK. Reggae, post-punk and Caribbean steel drums are all prevalent on this 12-inch record. Perhaps the punk link in the title was somewhat tenuous but there’s no doubting that some of the influences could have been from Bristol’s The Pop Group or London all-girl four-piece The Slits.

Alternative TV: Life After Dub (1978)

A-side ‘Life After Life’, B-side ‘Life After Dub’. The A-side was a clear nod to Jamaica, with vocals from Sniffin’ Glue editor Mark Perry, sounding positively positive. The B-side was a straight-through dub version with echoes and clipped lyrics. One of the band’s finest moments.

Bad Brains: Bad Brains LP (1982) 

American band Bad Brains were out on their own, with many of their songs actively fusing hardcore punk and roots reggae. They were that rarity of being a black punk band. They were also followers of the Rastafari movement, so the reggae/dub side came easily to them. The first five tracks of this debut LP are pure hardcore (with noticeable nods to reggae) then track six, ‘Jah Calling’, is akin to a dub interlude. ‘Leaving Babylon’ is another track that is 100 percent reggae and the shift in moods works perfectly, though it does seem at times that there are two bands at play on the same record.

Public Image Ltd: Metal Box (1979)

After the punk wave disintegrated by the beginning of 1978, post-punk came into play. The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten reverted to his birth name John Lydon and formed PiL which threw out the three cord thrash and explored a buffet of divergent genres.  Jah Wobble’s booming bassline sounded like it was torn directly from dub plates. Same for the band’s production, especially on the second LP, the much-lauded and pioneering Metal Box.

Gang of Four: I Love A Man In Uniform (Dub version) (1982)

Way before the Gang’s finest hour, the Leeds disruptors were well versed in the art of reggae and dub with the band’s discordant basslines clearly being influenced by Kingston producers. This version of the group’s biggest hit single only initially appeared on US and Canadian 12-inch releases. It helped the single become a big hit in American clubs and on the dance charts.

Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi’s Dead (1979)

Bauhaus are often unfairly labelled as a Goth band, so many people will be surprised to learn that they highly influenced by dub, with bass player, David J saying that their signature song "was our interpretation of dub". Several singles contained dub-tinged versions.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

Top 10 of ...Truly Pitiful Political Songs

Everythingsgonegreen takes no issue with political and social commentary songs. Songs like ‘Respect’, ‘This Land Is Your Land’, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and ‘Get Up Stand Up’ were pivotal to the movements they supported at the time and remain classic examples of where political lyrics can hit the mark.

Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t work and here are some examples – from the left, the right, and up the middle – from songwriters who should’ve kept to subjects like love and emotions. Craig Stephen pops his head above the parapet to take a peek … 

Extreme - Rest in Peace (1991)

All-American soft rock boys Extreme reached out to the redneck fraternity with this pro-war dirge that shouted ‘shut up pinkos and watch as our American heroes kill and maim’.

Dumb-ass right-wing sloganeering is nothing new and this was another crude attack on people who sang ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Extreme even reference Lennon’s song but, in that crazy right-wing delusional way, suggest that going to war is the only route to a world free of violence.

Here’s a snippet: “Let's talk of peace/ Sounds so cliché/ A novelty/ Catch phrase of the day.”

And another: “Make love not war, sounds so absurd to me/ We can't afford to say these words lightly/ Or else our world will truly rest in peace.”

Yes, that’s right by trying to stop wars, peace campaigners are actually making the world worse.

Plastic Ono Band - Give Peace a Chance (1969)

And of course, we all want love, peace and a world free of wars, but this effort was so cringy and inane that peace groups must’ve groaned with embarrassment.

‘Give Peace a Chance’ reduced global geopolitics into a hippy flower-waving slogan. As a result it’s irritating and banal.

It’s a song to sing to make you feel like you’re doing something about the state of the world even if you’re not.

Typical stream of consciousness line: “Everybody’s talking about/ Revolution, evolution, masturbation, flagellation, regulation, integrations, United Nations, congratulations.”

Eric Clapton - This Has Gotta Stop (2021)

Entitled white rich guy scenario in excelsis. Released during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions, Clapton takes the side of the conspiracy theory lunacy wing as he just wants his ‘freedom’ while millions of people were dying from the disease.

Here’s a portion of this whingeathon: “This has gotta stop/ Enough is enough/ I can't take this BS any longer/ It's gone far enough.”

Another veteran of the 60s turned tinfoiler Van Morrison meanwhile released a string of anti-lockdown songs, such as ‘Born to Be Free’ and ‘No More Lockdown’, with lyrics claiming that government control was over-reach, and that pandemic researchers were "making up crooked facts". 

The Cranberries - Zombie (1994)

The song is about the tragic death of two children in England during the Troubles (as a result of the 1993 IRA-Warrington bombing). A worthy sentiment and if they had left it that, who would’ve complained.

But in ‘Zombie’ Dolores O’Riordan and co take on the entire nationalist movement, decrying “It's the same old theme, since 1916/ In your head, in your head they're still fighting”.

The pointing to the date is the Easter Rising in Dublin, a rebellion that ended in defeat but ultimately played a prominent role in the events that led to the end of British colonial rule in Ireland.

It’s a significant moment in Irish history, but one which seems to be scorned at by The Cranberries, who hailed from Limerick in the Republic.

Merle Haggard - Okie From Muskogee (1969)

Merle Haggard is renowned for songs such as ‘Mama Tried’ and ‘Workin’ Man Blues’, but his lasting legacy is ‘Okie From Muskogee’, a joke that snowballed into an anti-hippie anthem.

It was hijacked by those who used it for their own means – such as then President Richard Nixon and, just like Springsteen’s ‘Born In the USA’, the meaning has been lost and misused. 

It was lyrics like "We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like living right and being free," that appealed to many and made Haggard a star.

In 1981 Haggard told media that the song made him “appear to be a person who was a lot more narrow-minded, possibly, than I really am.” Later still he would express regret at expressing his opinions in song.

Phil Collins - Another Day in Paradise (1989)

Written by a struggling musician, the song may have received a pass mark. But in the hands of a multi-millionaire and vehement supporter of Britain’s Conservative Party, it just seemed like a way of cashing in on a problem he would only see from the wheel of his expensive car.

It tells the tale of a homeless woman being blanked by those who would easily be able to help her. Collins may have meant well but the song was branded cringeworthy and worse. In 1997 the ex-Genesis man threatened to desert Britain for the more tax friendly Switzerland if a fairly timid Labour Party won the election. Labour won in a landslide and Collins made good on his promise. 

Toby Keith - Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) (2002)

Proving that country and western music can result in some of the worst redneck malarkey is this dire ‘patriotic’ song that wallows in retribution.

The rally-around-the-flag anthem was released in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - aka 9/11 - with cartoonish goon squad lyrics like “you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A / 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.” 

Oliver Anthony - Rich Men North of Richmond (2023)

Plenty was said about this song last year and Billy Bragg wrote his own reposte. It’s not so much the stance of the song, it’s the utter naivety that takes the biscuit.

Initially, Anthony rails against low pay and greedy politicians in Washington D.C. Then he turns away from the fat cats and the corrupt Congressmen and women to lash out at the very people he initially defended - those made unemployed by the greed of the system and forced to exist on welfare. Anthony seems oblivious to the connection between low pay and unemployment and how both are used as tools by the establishment to keep people down.

D:Ream - Things Can Only Get Better (1993)

The song wasn’t political, in fact it was a feel-good dance anthem about, well, how you can go from shit street to happy town if you persist.

But it became political when the British Labour Party adopted it and D:Ream gave it permission, either through loyalty to the Tony Blair project or just because they needed the cash.

The New Labour governments from 1997 to 2005 are synonymous with the illegal war in Iraq and the continuation of Thatcherism. The former may not have been predicted in 1997 but the latter certainly could have so the band were hardly innocents who were taken for a ride.

It’s also a fucking annoying piece of disco pap.

The Deplorable Choir - Real Women Vote For Trump (2020)

Do I even need to comment on this?

Monday, March 4, 2024

Gig Review: The National @ TSB Arena, Wellington, 25 February 2024

I’m a longtime fan of The National, collecting virtually everything the band has released over the past couple of decades. More or less, give or take. So naturally, having missed all of the band’s previous outings in Aotearoa, I picked up tickets for their first ever Wellington show as early as last September. It felt like a long wait.

When The Beths were later added to the bill as the Wellington support - Fazerdaze getting the prior night’s Auckland slot - it was merely a bonus. But it also ensured I was at the venue suitably early to catch the much-loved local power-poppers’ set. By my own unscientific estimation, in terms of gigs, I’ve probably seen more of The Beths than I have of any other live act across the past decade or so.

Once again they didn’t disappoint, pumping out as polished a half hour set - around ten songs - as I can recall from them, with a mix of old and newer tracks offering the perfect taster for any Beths-newbies. My own pick of the bunch being ‘Whatever’, the oldest track of all, an ageless banger that seems to sound better each time I hear it. Perfect pop from a band continually striving to achieve exactly that.

 I’d heard really great things about The National’s live shows. Some reports even suggesting that the band’s compelling live performances far and away exceed any notional high bar created by its recorded output. That’s a fairly big call, and it’s one that was perhaps the main catalyst for my own *relative* level of disappointment upon exiting the near full venue late on Sunday night.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what disappointed me. And I’m not even sure disappointment is the right word. More nonchalance, or indifference on my part.

It wasn’t as though the band was lacking any professionalism or inspiration. It wasn’t a lack of effort on their part. The set-list was decent - stacked with older classics blended with more recent stuff. They played for more than two hours, and with frontman Matt Berninger to the fore as the focal point, The National has an energetic and beguiling stage presence rivalled by very few bands on the stadium circuit.

Indeed, there’s been worse concerts at that venue that I’ve enjoyed far more, for whatever reason that was. The one I can’t put my finger on.

Those “older classics” included the likes of ‘Squalor Victoria’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, ‘Conversation 16’, and the slow burning, now 20-year-old, ‘Cherry Tree’. All of them immaculately presented with enough live grit in there to make each one a captivating enough experience. But there was also a little splash of mud in the vocal mix, a lack of clarity even, and while Berninger’s baritone croon works brilliantly on record, I felt his live, clipped, almost shouty/spoken vocal delivery, was found a little wanting at times.

That angsty line in ‘Conversation 16’ where he sings “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains … cos I’m evil” loses some of its horror impact when you remove a more ambiguous croon from its wider punch, and replace it with a short sharp shouty jab.

The “newer stuff” included the recent break-up anthem ‘Eucalyptus’, which went down well as an early treat, ‘Tropic Morning News’, and much later, ‘Alien’. Again, all great, but the band’s focus seemed to be more around its 2010 to 2020 work, with obligatory lip service paid to the two most recent 2023 album releases.

That meant ‘Demons’, ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, a superb ‘I Need My Girl’, ‘Day I Die’, ‘Rylan’, ‘Graceless’ et al. Plus others.

At one point, mid-song, Berninger left the stage and made his way to near the bar at the back of the venue - without buying a round! - continuing to “sing”, his stage tech forced to work a minor miracle to keep man and microphone connected. All it would take is some clown in the crowd to do his absolute worst … a thought I quickly and admirably managed to suppress as Berninger passed within an arm’s reach of me.

A five-song encore meant Wellington was treated to a set-list of more than a couple of dozen carefully selected tracks, the band doing more than enough to make up for lost time in the capital, and there’s no doubt they offered good value for money.

The crowd itself was an interesting mix. From the young and the single, to middle-aged couples and everything in-between. An outing for those of a mainstream persuasion perhaps, while it also remains clear - on account of thoughtful clever lyricism mostly - that The National can still court fringes of the indie scene its music has always remained on the very periphery of.

It’s a fine line. Nobody wants to be thought of as an American version of Coldplay, do they?

I’m pleased I went along. Sunday night and all. To scratch that itch.

Are The National a better live proposition than they are as a studio outfit?

That’s a hard “no” from me. Not from this experience anyway. They’re good, possibly great, but that discography is a little bit special.

They’re certainly much more energetic on stage, no question, but for clarity of sound, for sense of purpose and direction in the production, for Berninger’s lush vocal delivery, I’m more than happy to content myself with the band’s studio work. And just quietly, I probably won’t rush out to buy tickets if they visit here again. 

No pics with this one. I took some, but none of them were particularly great when viewed in the cold light of the following day, so I’ll spare you that.  

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Album Review: Riot 111 - 1981! (1981/2023)

Craig Stephen on a recent Leather Jacket Records compilation / retrospective …

Riot 111 were a band created by politics, discord and violence. Their origins lay in the protests and brutality of the anti-Springbok tour movement of 1981 which divided the country in two.

The quartet left the meagre sum of two singles, as well as an appearance on a compilation album of Wellington bands. All of these records have been virtually impossible to find over the past few years, and punters have had to stump up ludicrous sums to opportunistic sellers to get their hands on that vinyl.

And yet, they left a legacy as one of the very few politically dedicated bands that have come out of New Zealand – Herbs are probably the only other I can think of but in a very different style and method. Kiwi musicians notoriously avoid any whiff of confrontation.

(Blogger’s note: I strongly disagree with this. Herbs and Riot 111 were the mere tip of a rather large political iceberg, and I may feel triggered enough to write a detailed response to Craig’s assertion at some point) …   

Thankfully, right before Christmas a collection, simply titled 1981, was issued in a limited run. It rounded up Riot 111’s entire recorded output, using newly-discovered master tapes.

There was no end of inspiration when they formed – the Springbok rugby tour occurred at a time when South Africa was isolated in sporting circles due to the apartheid system. The tour exposed the ugly, racist, redneck upper belly of New Zealand. On one side were those who wanted the tour halted in solidarity with Nelson Mandela and the ANC; on the other side those who naively believed that politics and sport never should mix – or who just didn’t want to know.

 Two of the 16 games were cancelled due to crowd interventions, another was flour-bombed by a plane (but went ahead) and there were protests at all the others.

Into this heated environment came Riot 111 to stir the pot a bit more. Were they even a musical group? Not according to “singer” Void who declared: “We’re not a band, we’re a terrorist organisation.”

So, he penned ‘1981’, released as a single with an anarcho-punk collage cover that would have infuriated those the band wanted to infuriate: Hitler kicked a rugby ball as Prime Minister Robert Muldoon applauded and the All Blacks did an unchoreographed haka. This also forms the cover of the album without any obvious tweaks, while the back of that 7” - featuring police in riot gear - is replicated on the album’s rear.

The single is an (ahem) riotous agit-punk blend of aggressive lyrics, ruthless guitar playing and tribal drumming based around the famous ‘ka mate’ haka, and fused with the South African freedom chant Amandla. It is incendiary and provocative in the context of the winter of discontent that the sporting tour wrought on the country.

The 90-second B-side ‘Go Riot’ is hilarious. There’s no actual music, just a Germanic, hectoring voice ordering a cackling Muldoon to proceed with the contentious tour, and afterwards, distract the population with a royal tour. It then cuts into some mimicking of rugby-loving redneck boofheads.

1982 was an eventful year for Riot 111. They began by supporting The Fall, and at an anti-nuclear gig in Wellington they only managed to play one song as the “move move move” chant on ‘Move To Riot’, which replicates that of the police at protests, literally moved the crowd to riot with Void forced to dodge beer bottles launched at the stage.

The text accompanying the album tells of a stoush between the band and TVNZ which refused to air the video for ‘Writing On The Wall’ from the second single and reproduces the letter from the head of entertainment in full. In it, Tom Parkinson wrote that he thought the song was poor, the musicianship below standard and “the clip is very passe, poorly made and has little merit”. Not only that but he objected to the inference of police violence. So much for freedom of speech.  

Riot 111 comprised vocalist John Void (later just Void), drummer Roger Riot (formerly Roger Allen, a mild-mannered public servant from Wellington’s northern suburbs), guitarist Nick Swan and Mark Crawford on bass. Allen describes Void as having an immense stage presence in his plastic riot helmet, actual police baton and leather trousers or kilt.

‘Move To Riot’ is the most musical of all the tracks and returns to the theme of police repression with Void shouting through a tannoy imitating a police officer breaking up a demonstration. “I am the law, I am order, you have no rights, scum!” Other “officers” abuse and mock the protesters, ie “Did you fucking swear at me?”. As Void speeds up the “move move move” order the atmosphere becomes ugly. Void as “chief officer” says: “I have a gun in the car and I’d love to blow you away” and the song ends in women screaming, glass smashing and people being bashed.

Some tracks don’t have quite the same impact, eg, ‘Escape Or Prison’ is largely an over-played drone lasting an excessive seven-and-a-half minutes. Perhaps with studio time and an empathetic producer behind them Riot 111 could have unleashed a colossal debut album that would have left an indelible mark on the New Zealand music scene.

While all eight tracks released under the band’s name are included on 1981!, I feel an opportunity has been lost. Surely, those master tapes also included alternative takes and demos of songs that were played at gigs but not actually formally released?

By 1984 Riot 111 were no more. Right-wing skinheads were gatecrashing the gigs and causing violence driving many fans away. Void became an actor in Australia.  

Their existence was brief and output meagre but they left a legacy that has never been matched in this country.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Classic Album Review: The Associates - Sulk (1982)

Craig Stephen on a Scottish indie masterclass …

In 1981 The Associates were an eclectic taste, a semi-experimental group known only to a select clique.

But by 1982 the Scottish act had become commercial property, with top 10 hits, magazine covers and appearances on Top of the Pops.

The reason for this incredible turnaround in fortunes was the album Sulk, which remains to this reviewer’s ears the best Scottish album of all time (yes, even better than the Bay City Rollers’ debut) if not one of the finest albums with geographical limitations removed.

It was adventurous, brazen, brilliantly written and musically magnificent while retaining the independent streak of the immense talents of Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine. The duo were The Associates although at the time it was officially a four-piece. Sulk was glamorous enough to pique the interest of the New Romantics and DJs on Radio Happy, and dark and esoteric enough for those with more eclectic tastes.

It included the poignant and emotionally charged ‘Party Fears Two’, which was good enough for the British top 10 and the spur for the success that was Sulk. It was written some years before its release and was apparently inspired by the sight of a couple of obnoxious teenage girls at a party, hence the title. It could explain the line: “The alcohol loves you while turning you blue.”

 MacKenzie, who hailed from Dundee, and Rankine, of Edinburgh, met in 1976, just as punk was about to kick off. They formed two proto bands before landing at The Associates. Their initial foray into the world was an under-produced and unauthorised version of Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, which certainly got them noticed. The Affectionate Punch (1980) and the semi-compilation Fourth Drawer Down (1981) followed on independent labels. They were warmly welcomed in the music press but just a little too esoteric for the general listener.

Through a complex “big brother” hierarchical record label system, The Associates found themselves a deal with Warner Brothers, and a large advance, some of which was used to house MacKenzie’s beloved whippet dogs in their own hotel room and feed them smoked salmon.

Nevertheless, they recorded in what has been described as a “drab, workmanlike space” in a grey, industrial location. Still, they were able to utilise what they had and this resulted in densely layered keyboards, echo effects and expansive reverbs. Listen closely and you’ll hear sheet metal shaking, canisters being rolled, and other studio tricks. Over the years compilations have been released containing demo versions of some of the songs that appeared on the album, and you can see what monied production techniques and ambition can do to transform tracks from raw and unpolished to soaring, epochal cacophonies.

As well as MacKenzie and Rankine, this line-up consisted of Michael Dempsey and John Murphy on bass and drums respectively. Both had been with the band for around two years, but were generally kept at the back of the bus as the duo hogged all the photo and interview opportunities that came their way. Canadian Martha Ladly, of new wave act Martha and the Muffins, was a prominent guest, supplying vocals and keyboards and her photogenic appearance ensured she shared some of the publicity.

The curious recording style extended to the track listing: ‘Party Fears Two’ and the other hit single ‘Club Country’ were kept to the second side. Listeners began their aural adventure with the three-minute instrumental ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’. It ends with an instrumental too, which would become the single ‘18 Carat Love Affair’. These two instrumentals seem somewhat peculiar as it’s MacKenzie’s magnificent voice that is the money shot.

MacKenzie possessed a vocal range that defied description, ranging from deep to the soaring high-pitched tenor that was very individualistic. It was beguiling, enthralling and beautiful. Later, MacKenzie would develop his vocal talents, and bested Shirley Bassey when both sang ‘The Rhythm Divine’ for Yello in separate versions. Songs such as ‘Bap De La Bap’ and ‘Skipping’ are created around MacKenzie, whose ambiguous and oblique lyrics gave them a neo-gothic feel. Bravely, the band tackled ‘Gloomy Sunday’, a song with Hungarian roots and considered to contain a hex over those who sang it. That didn’t deter Billie Holiday, nor did it put off MacKenzie who gave it his own unique sound.

Several tracks engage the listener before we reach ‘Party Fears Two’, one of the most perfect songs ever, and ‘Club Country’ which seemingly condemns elitist structures if the chorus is to be read correctly: “Alive and kicking at the Country Club/ We're always sickening at the Country Club/ A drive from nowhere leaves you in the cold/ Refrigeration keeps you young I'm told.”  

They had their moment in the sun, and Sulk should’ve led to regular appearances on television and stadium gigs. But it all turned to custard rather quickly. Even before the year was out Rankine was gone, frustrated beyond belief that MacKenzie wouldn’t tour the album.

Rankine went out on his own, MacKenzie carried The Associates flag with Perhaps released in 1985. While it has some magnificent moments such as ‘Waiting For the Love Boat’ and ‘Those First Impressions’, it lacks Rankine’s instrumental genius and is for all intents and purposes a MacKenzie solo album.

Sulk, meanwhile, has been reissued several times over the years. As I write this I’m listening to the blue-coloured vinyl version. In 2016 an additional seven tracks were added to the CD version which included ‘18 Carat Love Affair’ and The Supremes’ ‘Love Hangover’ which combined became a medium-level hit in the UK and elsewhere. Most recently there was a special deluxe format with outtakes, Peel sessions, a live gig and even a disk containing five different versions of ‘Party Fears Two’. As The Associates rarely put a foot wrong, there is nothing here that is weak or profligate.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Gig Review: Nabihah Iqbal @ Meow, Wellington, 16 January 2024

Tuesday nights at Meow are always a bit of a mystery. Never more so than when that Tuesday night falls slap bang in the middle of the summer holiday season. So with a good portion of the capital’s gig-going population either out of town, or just as likely suffering from some sort 0f post-Festive (or post-Festival-of-choice, even) hangover, it was a pleasant surprise to see a fairly decent turnout for Nabihah Iqbal’s Aotearoa-debut outing last week.

I estimate the crowd was something close to a couple of hundred, which made the venue lively enough, at about half-capacity. We were “warmed up” - stifling heat aside - by Wellington duo, Japes, who may ordinarily be less a duo and more the solo project of one Mia Kelly. It was all very low key, with Kelly and friend (Lochie Noble?) serving up morsels of intimate dream-pop moments for about 20 fairly compelling minutes.

What was less a pleasant surprise, and more of a disappointment, for me anyway, was the fact that Iqbal arrived on stage without a band. Just her and a guitarist-come-saxophonist. She later apologised for that scenario, saying she couldn’t afford the expense that comes with a full-band tour. Which is probably fair enough considering the pre-tour logistical uncertainties she faced as a mostly under-the-radar artist in this part of the world.

 But it meant that the layers of shoegaze brilliance found on last year’s Dreamer album were a little compromised by the use of background tracking, making it less rock n roll and more lightweight karaoke. That’s not to say that those tracks didn’t work well enough, because they did, it’s just the sense that they could all have been a hell of a lot more.

The Dreamer album, which provided Iqbal with something of a global breakthrough in 2023, was her main point of reference throughout the one-hour-plus set, with versions of the title track, ‘Sunflower’, ‘Gentle Heart’, ‘Lilac Twilight’, ‘Closer Lover’, and naturally, the wonderful ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’, all taking pride of place.

We also got ‘Zone 1 to 6000’ from her 2017 release Weighing Of The Heart, and a pretty great cover of The Cure’s masterpiece ‘A Forest’ as the penultimate song before a one-song encore.

Iqbal was very chatty, offering what felt like stream-of-consciousness musings about her life and the state of the world between songs. A fully qualified barrister, a literary nerd, and an unrepentant social activist, the London-based Iqbal seems like a very sincere and humble sort of individual, and at various points she expressed genuine surprise to be on stage performing such personal songs to a group of complete strangers, some 12,000 miles from home.

Such warmth and the sense that everything was mostly unrehearsed - and executed as well as it could be - wasn’t quite enough for me to get over my initial disappointment about there not being a full band, but it did help, and as I left the venue I reminded myself that it doesn’t always have to be about big production and rock n roll to be a good night out. And sometimes, relatively low key Tuesday nights at Meow have their place.


Casting aside my own live-performance “issues” expressed above, here’s the official clip for Iqbal’s excellent ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’ from last year …



Monday, January 15, 2024

Album Review: Primal Scream - Reverberations (Travelling In Time) (2023)

Craig Stephen on new / old Primal Scream …

Primal Scream haven’t been overly enthusiastic about their early years. The first band compilation Dirty Hits (2003) dismissed two entire albums worth and several singles, instead beginning the band’s adventure five years after their debut single.

Two further collections have partly rectified this misnomer with the inclusion of some tracks dating from 1985-1987.

Nevertheless, those initial, naïve, formative years remain largely untouched, so seeing the release of Reverberation (Travelling In Time) - subtitled BBC Radio Sessions & Creation Singles 1985-1986 - is something of a Secret Santa gem for those Primal fans who love all the various phases the band has gone through.

This was pre-electronica, indeed pre-rock’n’roll/Stones loving Primals, with influences such as The Byrds and Love to the fore. They were pivotal members of the twee scene – of which jangling guitars, anoraks and floppy fringes were de rigeur.

In May 1985 the Glasgow outfit burst onto the indie rock scene with the single ‘All Fall Down’/‘It Happens’ with a cover cribbed from a Francoise Hardy album. It didn’t sell and was ignored by the then influential weekly newspapers such as NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. The band line-up then was Bobby Gillespie on vocals, fellow founding member Jim Beattie on guitar, Robert Young on bass, Stewart May on rhythm guitar, Tam McGurk on drums and Martin St John on tambourine.

 Paul Harte replaced May after the recording of that single and with his outlook and love of trendy clothing gave the band a bit of oomph. As Beattie explains in the album’s liner notes things were soon taking off during that British summer: “Paul had a brilliant attitude; he was quite sartorial and that really brought something to the group. We looked good with great songs and great lyrics and by 1985 it felt like we were really becoming a band.”

At the end of the year they recorded their debut session for John Peel, a must-do for any aspiring young band of the time. The band were, in their own words, naïve and had a producer who once played in Moot the Hoople and wasn’t for taking advice for any young upstarts. Yet, it worked. That seminal session, played late at night on Radio One, included four tracks as per tradition, namely ‘I Love You’, ‘Crystal Crescent’, ‘Subterranean’ and ‘Aftermath’.

According to Gillespie the songs from this era had a “lovesick, melancholic yearning to them”. In his 2021 bio, Tenement Kid, Gillespie describes where he was at when penning now legendary songs such as ‘Gentle Tuesday’ and ‘All Fall Down’: “They are written and sung by a young, depressed boy who views life from a pained, detached, cynical position. The desperation of life and love weighs heavily on the mind.”

In early 1986 the new line-up recorded three tracks for a single which was led by ‘Crystal Crescent’, but it was one of the two B-sides that took precedence. ‘Velocity Girl’ was chosen as the opening track for the feted soundtrack to the scene, C86. Its status is such that it would later provide the name for an American band and was covered by the Manic Street Preachers. It lasts a mere 1:22, barely enough to have three verses and a chorus that closes it off. Gillespie’s plaintive voice is illuminating almost immediately as he trots off now familiar lines: “Here she comes again/ With vodka in her veins/ Been playing with a spike/ She couldn't get it right”.

Its brevity was in keeping with the time-consciousness of the band: the 16 tracks clock in at a grand total of 35 minutes. That’s the equivalent of one Fela Kuti EP.

They were now truly gaining the attention of London’s movers and shakers and recorded a second session for John Peel and one for Janice Long both within a month of each other. Long, at that time, preceded Peel on weeknights on Radio One with the equivalent level of enthusiasm for new music as the veteran DJ.

All eight session tracks are featured on Reverberations with the Long session kicking off the album. These sessions would introduce songs such as ‘Imperial’, ‘Leaves’ and ‘Tomorrow Ends Today’.

A year on and the band’s debut album Sonic Flower Groove was released. Critics liked it or hated it. One reviewer described it as a real gem, another dubbed it “dandelion fluff" and made up of leftover tracks. But as this review on this site noted (here), it is an underrated classic which “I find easy to play over and over, and discover new chimes or riffs to enjoy each time.” 

Many of the session tracks appeared on Sonic Flower Groove and benefit (or fail!) from having proper production techniques. Some of the session tracks sound like they were done in a garage with equipment bought in bargain shops.

During the recording sessions for the album McGurk was sacked, St John left, and after its release Beattie quit too and formed Spirea X (the title of the other ‘Crystal Crescent’ B-side). Things were far from hunky dory in the Primals camp. But with new faces came a different attitude and sound.

The band evolved initially into a rocky, Stones type act with the eponymous second album (reviewed here) that came out in 1989, and then, of course, captured the essence of the summer of 1990 and the so-called ‘baggy’ scene and subsequent superstardom. They reinvent themselves at virtually every turn and have never been afraid to change colours when it suited. 

It is that long-term success that has largely cast a shadow over their initial work. But this formative period should never be overlooked in the development stream of Primal Scream. Thankfully, we now have a collection of beautiful and mesmerising songs that remind us of what promise and ability they possessed in those heady days of the mid-80s. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

A Staunch Poptimist's Year-End Wrap

As much as everythingsgonegreen loves to concern itself almost exclusively with all things retro, we’re not completely immune to celebrating the delights of today. It’s just that there’s so damn much of it, and sorting the wheat from the chaff often feels way too laborious. When really, we could just listen to the perennial tried and trusted of yester-year. As much as that lazy and unambitious default option renders this blog largely irrelevant with any cool kids, we do know our place.

In some respects, it was a genuine lack of knowledge about the here and now, or a lack of “currency”, which prompted me a few years back to cease with writing year-end wraps or best-of-the-year lists for the blog. I think the last one was in 2020, and there’s no real enthusiasm from me to revisit 2023 either. So I asked someone else to do it. Someone with the benefit of youth, an early-twenty-something self-described “staunch poptimist”, sometime music blogger and friend of the blog, Sam Bell, who offers his 2023 wrap in the form of a very welcome guest post … 

1. Jessie Ware - ‘That! Feels Good!’ (Dance-Pop, Disco)  

The release of Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ in March 2020 heralded the beginning of the nu-disco revival that has saturated this decade with varying levels of success.

 The Lows? Kylie Minogue’s 2023 release ‘Tension’ and Tame Impala’s 2020 hangover cure ‘The Slow Rush’ come to mind.

 The Highs? The emergence of Dua Lipa as a pop sensation, the re-emergence (amid not-insignificant controversy) of Róisín Murphy as a bona fide hit-maker, and of course the late blossoming of Jessie Ware.

 When one thinks of tasteful use of saxophone in pop music, the mind naturally wanders to the cliché heights of ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘Baker Street’. My mind wanders to many of my favourite moments from ‘That! Feels Good!’. Unlike the aforementioned hits, the saxophone in Ware’s music never dominates, it is left in the background, bristling with passion and excitement but never allowed to impose on Ware, whose rich vocal is always front and centre.

I’ll push saxophone discourse to the side, as I don’t want to give the impression that the music on ‘That! Feels Good!’ isn’t imminent. It is. It / Ware demands attention. 

Ware, a mother to three children, is proof that lust (for life) never quite evaporates if you’re not willing to let it. She is imperative in the album’s opener and title track; she floats over the silky ‘Lightning’; she’s just the right mix of sultry and sweet on ‘These Lips’; and you simply won’t hear a more sincere expression of joy this year than you will on ‘Beautiful People’. ‘That! Feels Good!’ is a testament to grabbing life – and love – by the horns and never letting go. It sits atop the highest peak of the 2020s nu-disco revival, and it sits there alone.

Key Tracks: ‘Free Yourself’; ‘Hello Love’; ‘Begin Again’. 

2. Danny Brown - ‘Quaranta’ (Conscious Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop)       

A decade ago Danny Brown released ‘XXX’, marking his 30th birthday. It’s a brilliantly depraved album, the kind that you feel guilty listening to, where the music is oh so good but the subject matter (that familiar cocktail of sex, drugs and fame) is oh so not.

And yet it probably wasn’t until Brown released ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ in 2016 that he received the widespread acclaim (if only from music publications; the general public did not react as Danny had intended – see here) that he has always deserved. Likewise, it probably wasn’t until 2016 that the music world at large started noticing, and being concerned by, the subject matter of Brown’s music. Luckily, with age comes maturity, right?

 A bit over 10 years after ‘XXX’, Brown has released ‘Quaranta’, or “forty” in Italian. Suffice to say, he’s trying his best to not be the Danny Brown of old. In terms of the hip hop landscape, he is old. There are glimmers of the terrifically zany character that Brown has cultivated throughout his career, however the best portions of ‘Quaranta’ are where Brown is without embellishment, sticking to his lower register to deliver insightful raps about the gentrification of hometown Detroit, heartbreak and, well, selling drugs (in the past tense!).

NB: Bruiser Wolf, almost impossibly, is the most charismatic voice on a Danny Brown album. Worth a listen for his distinctive cadence alone.

Key Tracks: ‘Y.B.P (feat. Bruiser Wolf)’; ‘Celibate (feat. MIKE)’; ‘Hanami’.

3. Sufjan Stevens - ‘Javelin’ (Indie Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Chamber Folk)    

Sufjan Stevens releasing one of the most heartbreaking albums of the year and waltzing his way into my year-end Top 10 list. Where have I heard that before?? (see: 2021, 2015, 2010, 2005, 2004 etc…)

Sonically ‘Javelin’ is the entanglement of all of the separate strands that Stevens has played with throughout his long career, often a combination of the ethereal ambience of ‘Carrie and Lowell’, the electronica of ‘Age of Adz’ and ‘All Delighted People’, and the chamber orchestration that made ‘Illinois’ such a career-defining hit.

Lyrically, Stevens has always been familiar with the concept of the “gut punch”, as highlighted by the likes of ‘Casimir Polaski Day’ (from ‘Illinois’), ‘Futile Devices’ (from ‘Age of Adz’) and ‘Mystery of Love’ (from the soundtrack of ‘Call Me By Your Name’). Not since 2015’s ‘Carrie and Lowell’ has Stevens decided to give his listeners an album-length gut-punch, at least not until now.

 Stevens’ sexual affinity has long been among the music industry’s worst-kept secret, a theme which throughout his career has only played second-fiddle to his affinity with Christianity. While ‘Javelin’ essentially plays the part of Stevens’ coming-out party, the circumstances surrounding its release (that being the death of his longtime partner, Evans Richardson) do not denote cause for celebration.

‘Javelin’ is Stevens’ second album that is explicitly about the death of a loved one; it is Stevens’ second album that is so wrapped up in the nostalgia of life, and the warmth that life brings, that its listener almost forgets about the subject matter until they are confronted with a line like:

“So here we stand in the dark, my eyes traveling to the place where you’d thrown yourself over the rocks”.

There is no need for an artist to re-invent the wheel when the wheel is already brilliant.

Key Tracks: ‘Will Anybody Ever Love Me’; ‘So You Are Tired’; ‘Shit Talk’.

4. JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown - ‘Scaring the Hoes’ (Experimental Hip Hop, Hardcore Hip Hop, Glitch Hop)   

In 2016 A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, a gut-wrenching goodbye to Phife Dawg who had died 8 months prior but had recorded his verse riddled with cancer. In many ways this was ATCQ’s most innovative album, a jazz rap opus made bespoke for the 21st century kid.

 That album’s fourth track, ‘Solid Wall of Sound’, builds up slowly, becoming gradually more claustrophobic for the listener until the last 20 seconds, in which all of the layers of music pile on top of one another and the listener is confronted with, well, a solid wall of sound. While no one might have ever asked the question: “what would it sound like if that last 20 seconds was stretched out to 36 minutes?”, JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown have answered it: “Scaring the Hoes”.

‘Scaring the Hoes’ is not some revelation, but rather the culmination of two of the senior voices in avant-garde hip hop honing their craft and having a lot of fun in the meantime. Don’t be put off initially by the brash lyricism or the song titles denoting the chronically-online nature of both artists’ fanbases – behind every solid wall of sound is layer-upon-layer of meticulously crafted music. This is a sampling odyssey not to be overlooked.

Key Tracks: ‘SCARING THE HOES’; ‘Burfict!’; ‘Kingdom Hearts Key (feat. Redveil)’.

5. George Clanton - ‘Ooh Rap I Ya’ (Chillwave, Neo-Psychedelia, Baggy)          

Absolution by way of chillwave.

'Ooh Rap I Ya' is one of those albums that should, ideally, be played so loud that the music feels almost tangible (not recommended by the least cool 9 out of 10 audiologists). Even if you're not so inclined to do irreparable damage to your ear drums, it is undeniable that in any setting Clanton and his backing of reverb and synths just sound, well, massive. Sorry, I meant MASSIVE.

 In some ways, this reminds me of the Stone Roses debut effort - not just due to the Baggy influence that is so inherent that you could probably peel it off from the LP pressing and use it to roll a cigarette, but also because of the fact that, whether you like it or not, this music will ingrain itself into your brain and nestle in there until you're annoying your flatmates by incessantly humming "AND I'VE BEEN YOUNG" while peeling potatoes.

Key Tracks: 'Justify Your Life'; 'I Been Young' (SOTY 2023); 'Vapor King / SubReal'.

6. Squid - ‘O Monolith’ (Experimental Rock, Art Punk, Krautrock)         

‘O Monolith’ is an enigma.

Though Squid’s debut album 'Bright Green Field' is a bigger statement with higher peaks than what Squid have delivered in this outing, I'd herald this work to be the bigger achievement. 'Bright Green Field’ was a whirlwind of opportunity, a bizarre entry into the British post-punk canon that baffled and amazed listeners at every turn. It is by all accounts a major-scale success story.

'O Monolith' is significantly less urgent than its predecessor; don’t be fooled by the fervent opener ‘Swing (In a Dream)’. What Squid has lost in energy and eccentricity, they gained in groove, lyricism, and that maturity that tends to elude all but the best of young artists who’re trying to show the world that they’re ready to make a mark.

 That Squid successfully avoided a sophomore slump is a good thing. That they were able to do so while continuing to innovate - keeping anyone who attempts to figure out what their next move will be essentially in the dark - is a great thing.

What was once a vibrant mix of Talking Heads x Parquet Courts has now become an assured mix of Radiohead x Can. Britain’s windmill scene has brought us yet another 2020s gem, and for that we should all be thankful.

Key Tracks: ‘Swing (In a Dream)’; ‘The Blades’; ‘If You Had Seen the Bull's Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away’.

7. Carly Rae Jepsen - ‘The Loveliest Time’ (Dance-Pop, Nu Disco)        

My way-too-early kneejerk reaction was that this is Carly Rae Jepsen’s best output since 'Emotion (Side B)'. Yes, this supposed B-side album is better than the Dedicated era, and better than ‘The Loneliest Time’.

That kneejerk reaction has not been tempered by the winds of time, but rather has been solidified by the kind of conviction that only comes from playing intoxicating pop music incredibly loud.

 The run through the middle of the album, starting with ‘Shy Boy’ and culminating with ‘Put It To Rest’ is as strong a 7-track run as CRJ has had in her career, and aside from the obvious miss that is 'Aeroplanes' (which is just a bit too syrupy for me, an already staunch poptimist), this album is as consistent as anything she has ever released.

This is the kind of album that makes CRJ’s fans no fun to be around at parties. Rather than dancing gleefully to ‘Call Me Maybe’, we are doomed to lament what could have been if she received the exposure and public acclaim that output like this deserves.

Key Tracks:

‘Kollage’; ‘Psychedelic Switch’; ‘Put It To Rest’.

8. HMLTD - ‘The Worm’ (Rock Opera, Progressive Rock)           

An album made by theatre kids who have reached an apex of fame, for theatre kids who aspire to do the same.

What can truly be said of a rock opera about a man who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, burdened with the belief that a giant worm has taken over medieval England and wreaking havoc wherever it slithers?

 If that’s not captivating enough to cause even the least curious of people to give ‘The Worm’ even a cursory listen, then they simply cannot be helped.

Oh and did I mention that they do a pretty good job covering Nina Simone?

Key Tracks: ‘The End is Now’; ‘Liverpool Street’; ‘Past Life (Sinnerman’s Song)’.

9. MIKE - ‘Burning Desire’ (Abstract Hip Hop, East Coast Hip Hop, Vaporwave)         

MIKE (with the help of DJ Blackpower, MIKE's producer alias) has created his enduring masterpiece. MIKE's career has been a story of a rapper and producer going from strength to strength, coming out from under the shadow of the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Wiki, Navy Blue, Ka and others in the world of low-fi, drumless hip hop to revel in his own vaporwave world.

 'Burning Desire' plays like a soundtrack, comprising of vignettes melding into each other rather than defined, individualistic songs. Does that matter? When the music sounds this good, not one iota.

More nuanced, musically, then anything MIKE has released before. An utterly triumphant album.

Key Tracks: 'African Sex Freak Fantasy' (picture Kanye West's 'Hell of a Life', but not unlistenable ten years on); 'plz don't cut my wings (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)'; 'What U Say U Are'.

10. Yussef Dayes - ‘Black Classical Music’ (Jazz Fusion, Jazz-Funk)      

The best of Dayes' studio albums - his 'Welcome to the Hills' live album still sits upon the highest peaks of any jazz recording created in the last 5-10 years. A near-perfect blend of funk, jazz, soul, and contemporary R&B.

 ‘Black Classical Music’ is incredibly tight. Dayes is one of the best jazz drummers in the world right now and, alongside Makaya McCraven, has positioned himself in such a way that I, in 2030, would be surprised to learn he hadn't dominated the entirety of the upcoming 2020s.

Key Tracks: 'Black Classical Music'; 'Rust (feat. Tom Misch)'; 'Tioga Pass (featuring Rocco Palladino)'.


Honourable Mentions:

Caroline Polachek – ‘Desire, I Want to Turn Into You’ (Art Pop, Electronic, Downtempo);

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – ‘PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation’ (Progressive Metal, Thrash Metal);

McKinley Dixon – ‘Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?’ (Jazz Rap, Conscious Hip Hop, Neo-Soul);

Róisín Murphy – ‘Hit Parade’ (Art Pop, Deep House, Chicago Soul);

DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ – ‘Destiny’ (House, Plunderphonics, Nu Disco).

Favourite Debut Releases (not otherwise listed):

Nourished by Time – ‘Erotic Probiotic 2’ (Alternative R&B, Bedroom Pop);

Asia Menor – ‘Enola Gay’ (Indie Rock, Post Punk, Math Rock);

London Brew – ‘Londo Brew’ (Jazz Fusion, Avant-Garde Jazz);

Model/Actriz – ‘Dogsbody’ (Noise Rock, Dance Punk)

Maruja – ‘Knocknarea (EP)’ (Post-Rock, Art Rock)

Posthumous Praise:

Jamie Branch – ‘Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War))’ (Avant-Garde Jazz; Chamber Jazz);

Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘12’ (Ambient, Modern Classical);

bl4ck m4rket c4rt - 'Today I Laid Down' (Slowcore, Slacker Rock)

This last one is particularly harrowing, as the artist was only 17 years old.